One of the easiest ways to make a movie for cheap is to set it in one interior location. But one of the hardest things about creating a cheap movie is to make it for cheap, but not cheap looking. The new micro budget headtrip, Coherence, accomplishes both feats. The entire film is set in (and directly around) one home, and takes place over one particularly troubling evening. Rather than let its minimalist setting work against it, Coherence embraces its own physical claustrophobia. It traps you in its unsettling atmosphere and dares you to pick it apart.
Once the power goes out, two guests go check out a house in the distance that is still fully lit. Minutes later, they return injured and shell shocked, and report that when they got to the lit house, they looked through the windows and saw their exact same dinner party sitting inside. From there on, Coherence develops into a rather fascinating exploration of human nature when confronted with illogical circumstances. Writer/director James Ward Byrkit (who set the film in his own home) wisely grounds the movie with his characters, rather than the science fiction elements of the story. Similar to Shane Carruth’s modestly budget, sci-fi headtrip, Upstream Color, the people are the focus of Coherence, not the uniquely realized sci-fi.
Basically, this is one hell of an interesting movie. It presents puzzling conflicts and executes them in a compelling manner. But because of the film’s modest size, the success of the picture rests heavily on the actors involved. So to say that Coherence works is not only a testament to the actors (namely lead actress Emily Baldoni, who deserves to be a big star), but also the manner in which their performances were captured.
Very little of Coherence was scripted, forcing the actors to rely on their improvisation skills, and adapt to whatever variable Byrkit initiated. For example, the actors were unaware that the power was going to cut off during dinner, so their fearful reactions are valid. Byrkit directed them to adapt, learn, figure out the situation. It’s a risky way to make a movie. If you have just one bad link among the actors, then the believability of the film crumbles. But if you pull it off, as Coherence does, then the film will be full of natural performances inexplicably forced to take command of an unnatural setting.
Coherence is a science fiction film for people who don’t particularly care for science fiction films (and for those who do, certainly). Its central mystery is challenging in all the best ways, and its performances are refreshingly authentic. But perhaps the most significant praise I can offer Coherence is that the second it was done, I had the impulse to watch it again immediately. I couldn’t wait to see what new clues were waiting for me. B+